Closing in on a Crumbling al Qaida
The myth of al Qaida is at last starting to fade, said Lebanon’s Daily Star in an editorial. In Iraq, the terror organization has been on the run ever since its Sunni allies turned against it. Its last bastion is in the northern city of Mosul, which has been turned into a ghost town as Iraqi forces close in on the surviving rebels. Al Qaida has also suffered a serious setback in Somalia, where its local leader, Moalim Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed in a U.S. bombing raid on May 1. And it has practically disappeared from Afghanistan, which Osama bin Laden made his base in 1996. Even in the northern province of Nuristan, once an al Qaida stronghold, Arab fighters are seldom encountered. U.S. Army officers say it’s not “even a topic of conversation” anymore. FBI Director Robert Mueller now claims that al Qaida will be destroyed “within years, not decades.”
But one place where the terrorist organization is still entrenched is the mountainous border regions of Pakistan, said India’s The Times. It’s where bin Laden is thought to be hiding, and is the base from which the group has launched various terrorist attacks, including the attempted assassination of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai. American officials are furious that the new Pakistani government is now negotiating with the regional warlords who are harboring al Qaida, said Hasan-Askari Rizvi in Pakistan’s Daily Times. But it’s the only feasible option. President Pervez Musharraf tried to get the army to root out al Qaida and the Taliban from the region, but the destruction and killing only embittered the locals, driving them into the arms of the militants. Dialogue is essential to identifying the moderates who can be persuaded to opt for peace and stability.
The U.S. has changed its strategy in Pakistan, too, said Syed Saleem Shahzad in the Hong Kong Asia Times. It had poured huge sums of money into supporting the country’s military against the terrorists ($10 billion in seven years) only to find those funds being channeled to conventional forces in the arms race against India. The generals even had the gall to ask for dollars to pay for air defense radar maintenance, even though Islamic militants have no air force. So now the U.S. is training Pakistani special operations teams to go after the terrorists; it hopes to do what it did in the Philippines, where training local troops led to suppression of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
Rather than focus on Asia and the Middle East, says David Sharrock in Britain’s The Times, we should be worried about what’s going on in North Africa, where al Qaida has had considerable success in promoting its brand through local fundamentalists. It may only have some 200 fighters in the region, but it is well organized and has started using tactics honed in Iraq: suicide attacks and sophisticated bombing techniques. But there’s no need to panic just yet, said Nazim Fethi in the North African news site Magharebia.com. As in Iraq, al Qaida’s brutal tactics are creating a backlash. Its regional leader, Abdelmalek Deroukdel, finds himself increasingly isolated after he ordered suicide attacks against civilians. Another key figure, Algeria’s Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is said to be defecting and could betray the whole local network. Despite its spectacular past successes, al Qaida has of late been looking less and less invincible.
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